Understanding Jaundice: Causes and Symptoms

Jaundice, characterized by the yellowing of the skin, eyes, and mucous membranes, is a common medical condition with various underlying causes. While it is often a symptom of an underlying health issue rather than a disease itself, understanding the causes of jaundice is essential for proper diagnosis and treatment. In this article, we will explore the primary causes of jaundice and discuss the associated symptoms and complications.

Jaundice Causes and Symptoms


Hepatitis, inflammation of the liver, is one of the leading causes of jaundice. Viral hepatitis, including hepatitis A, B, C, D, and E viruses, can infect the liver and impair its function, leading to jaundice. Hepatitis viruses are typically transmitted through contaminated food or water (hepatitis A and E) or blood and bodily fluids (hepatitis B, C, and D). Other causes of hepatitis include alcohol abuse, autoimmune hepatitis, and drug-induced liver injury.

Liver Cirrhosis

Liver cirrhosis is a chronic liver disease characterized by the gradual replacement of healthy liver tissue with scar tissue, impairing liver function over time. Chronic alcohol abuse, viral hepatitis, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), and autoimmune liver diseases are common causes of liver cirrhosis. As liver function declines, jaundice may develop as a result of impaired bilirubin processing and clearance.


Gallstones are hardened deposits that form in the gallbladder, a small organ located beneath the liver. When gallstones obstruct the bile ducts, which transport bile from the liver to the intestines, bile flow may become obstructed, leading to jaundice. Gallstone-related jaundice is often accompanied by symptoms such as abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, and fever.

Bile Duct Obstruction

Obstruction of the bile ducts can occur due to various factors, including gallstones, tumors, inflammation, or scarring of the bile ducts. When bile flow is obstructed, bilirubin accumulates in the bloodstream, resulting in jaundice. Bile duct obstruction may be caused by conditions such as pancreatic cancer, bile duct cancer, primary sclerosing cholangitis, or choledocholithiasis (gallstones in the bile duct).

Hemolytic Anemia

Hemolytic anemia is a condition characterized by the premature destruction of red blood cells, leading to an increased production of bilirubin. When the liver is unable to process the excess bilirubin efficiently, jaundice may occur. Hemolytic anemia can be caused by various factors, including autoimmune disorders, genetic conditions, infections, medications, and toxins.

Liver Cancer

Liver cancer, also known as hepatocellular carcinoma, can cause jaundice as it progresses and impairs liver function. Risk factors for liver cancer include chronic viral hepatitis, liver cirrhosis, alcohol abuse, obesity, and exposure to certain toxins and carcinogens. Jaundice associated with liver cancer may be accompanied by symptoms such as abdominal pain, weight loss, fatigue, and loss of appetite.

Gilbert’s Syndrome

Gilbert’s syndrome is a benign genetic condition characterized by mild jaundice that occurs intermittently, often in response to stress, fasting, or illness. In Gilbert’s syndrome, there is a deficiency of an enzyme called UDP-glucuronosyltransferase, which is involved in the conjugation and processing of bilirubin in the liver. While Gilbert’s syndrome does not typically cause serious health problems, it can result in mild jaundice and elevated bilirubin levels.

Symptoms of Jaundice

In addition to yellowing of the skin, eyes, and mucous membranes, jaundice may be accompanied by other symptoms, depending on the underlying cause. Common symptoms of jaundice include:

  • Yellowing of the whites of the eyes (scleral icterus)
  • Dark urine
  • Pale stools
  • Abdominal pain or discomfort
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Fever
  • Unintentional weight loss

Complications of Jaundice

Untreated jaundice can lead to complications such as:

  • Liver failure
  • Bleeding disorders
  • Encephalopathy (brain dysfunction)
  • Increased risk of infections
  • Malnutrition
  • Kidney failure


Jaundice is a common medical condition that can result from various underlying causes, including liver disease, gallstones, bile duct obstruction, hemolytic anemia, and liver cancer. Recognizing the symptoms of jaundice and identifying its underlying cause, is essential for proper diagnosis and treatment. If you or someone you know experiences jaundice or related symptoms, seek medical attention promptly to determine the cause and receive appropriate care. Early diagnosis and treatment can help prevent complications and promote recovery.

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